Australian energy giant rocked by shareholder rebellion

Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor is facing a significant showdown with investor activists as its bid to drill for oil in a well-known Australian beauty spot intensifies.

Under its proposals, Equinor wants to drill a 2.2km exploration well in the Great Australian Bight, a stretch of coastline regarded as one of the world’s most unspoiled marine environments.

However, the plans are being fiercely contested by an alliance of environmental groups which includes Greenpeace Norway and the World Wildlife Fund, who purposefully bought shares in Equinor to oppose the proposals at the company’s AGM in May.

The shareholder motion implored Equinor to desist its oil and gas exploration and production in “frontier and pristine” environments, including the Bight.

While the shareholder resolution was unsuccessful, the activists are resolute in their determination to stop the proposed drilling – which they warned would endanger both the climate and local wildlife.

As it stands, Equinor’s proposals are still very much on the table, although Australia’s federal regulator had recently summoned the company to modify and resubmit its proposals following concerns about its oil spill emergency response plan.

In its issue notice to Equinor last month, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), which has previously rejected a similar exploration application from BP, said: “Equinor must provide NOPSEMA with further information about matters relating to consultation, source control, oil spill risk, and matters protected under Part 3 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

“The opportunity to modify and resubmit does not represent a refusal or rejection of the environment plan. This is a normal part of NOPSEMA’s environment plan assessment process.”

In response, Equinor resubmitted its environmental plans for its Bight drilling activity on 29 November 2019, with NOPSEMA’s next decision scheduled to occur by 30 December.

Despite fears that an oil spill from the drilling would be catastrophic to the Australian coastline and marine life, Equinor maintains the risks are small.

“Many people voice concerns about the risk of an oil spill, but we have long experience from our home waters and around the world with exploration in rough seas and deep waters, having drilled nearly 3,000 wells in 50 years.

“Our Environment Plan shows that the risk of a spill is extremely small, and we are taking every possible precaution to minimise risk,” the company stated on its website.

Netherless, environmental groups and shareholders are staying strong in their fight to prevent the drilling activity.

Speaking to BBC News last month, Australian Heath Joske, one of the activists who spoke at Equinor’s AGM in May, said if the drilling goes ahead, community opposition will strengthen.

“Nothing’s changed here. We’re just waiting on the decision right now and if they [NOPSEMA] tick it off things will escalate, opposition-wise, for sure,” Joske told BBC News.

Meanwhile, a petition on against the Bight plans has nearly reached its target of 75,000 signatures.

“If NOPSEMA wrongly decide to approve the plan to drill, I will be sending this petition to MP Melissa Price (minister for environment) and MP Angus Taylor (minister for energy) to escalate the issue and illustrate the massive public disapproval,” the petition’s originator stated.

Equinor’s controversial oil drilling proposals come as Greenpeace Nordic prepares to take the Norwegian government to Oslo’s Court of Appeal for opening up new oil drilling in the Arctic. 

According to the environmental group, Norway is the seventh biggest exporter of climate-wrecking emissions on the planet, with the country drilling more oil wells than ever before.

“Right now, climate change is contributing to intensifying wildfires, droughts, hurricanes and heatwaves and causing deaths around the world,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, said in a statement. “The Norwegian government can no longer ignore the dangerous impact its exported oil is having on the climate.

“Climate change knows no borders. Oil is oil, no matter where it is burned, and the government needs to cancel all drilling for new oil in the Arctic,” said Pleym.

Last Updated: 9 December 2019
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